This closed shop must open again to every class and race

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket - Si­mon Hef­fer

Cricket should be able to de­vise its own state­ment about a game every­one plays on equal terms

The England and Wales Cricket Board’s lead­er­ship is doubt­less fol­low­ing the furore in foot­ball’s Premier League about its swift iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, af­ter the death of Ge­orge Floyd, with the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment.

Cricket is re­gret­tably not free from racism, but foot­ball has had a ter­ri­ble prob­lem with it for decades. The game’s lead­ers abom­i­nate it and ar­gue un­equiv­o­cally for equal op­por­tu­nity and re­spect for foot­ballers of all races. So, when Black Lives Mat­ter came along, the Premier League ea­gerly associated it­self with the move­ment, and joined in the in­ter­na­tional dis­gust at Floyd’s killing.

How­ever, no one seemed to read the BLM small print. The move­ment has now been ex­posed as hav­ing weaponised anti-racism to at­tack so­ci­ety, not just anti-black big­otry. The white an­ar­chists who play a sub­stan­tial part in it wish, among other things, to over­throw cap­i­tal­ism, end the “nu­clear fam­ily” and de­fund the po­lice. Worse, state­ments by BLM ac­tivists about “Is­rael’s colo­nial, apartheid regime” have brought ac­cu­sa­tions of anti-Semitism (ap­par­ently, some forms of racism are more ac­cept­able than oth­ers).

Crys­tal Palace last week said that while they ab­horred racism, they could not as­so­ciate them­selves with other as­pects of the move­ment. Sky and BBC pun­dits have re­moved the BLM badges they were proudly wear­ing on air.

Premier League play­ers will con­tinue to wear a be­spoke Black Lives Mat­ter badge for the rest of the sea­son, be­cause it was de­signed by a Wat­ford player, and is not the au­tho­rised badge of the po­lit­i­cal move­ment. It is hard to think of a more ram­pantly cap­i­tal­ist busi­ness in Bri­tain than Premier League foot­ball; and pro­fes­sional foot­ball is mar­keted as a game to which par­ents can take their chil­dren – their nu­clear fam­ily; and the game re­lies heav­ily on the po­lice to de­ter trou­ble and, in­deed, to round up abu­sive racists. The small print is, af­ter all, hugely im­por­tant.

This should be a les­son to the ECB: but our crick­eters and those of the West Indies will wear the be­spoke Premier League badge on the col­lar of their shirts when the Test series starts to­mor­row. The ECB and cap­tain Joe Root say they will do so be­cause there is no place for racism in the game. There cer­tainly is not. But the ECB’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to sig­nal virtue has, as in foot­ball, ob­scured the is­sue about the sort of peo­ple with whom it has jumped into bed.

Cricket should be able to de­vise its own state­ment about a game that every­one plays on equal terms and that does not tol­er­ate racially of­fen­sive be­hav­iour, with­out as­so­ci­at­ing it­self with the equally of­fen­sive poli­cies of the an­ti­Semitic an­ar­chists who run BLM. It still has time to do so.

It is, too, widely recog­nised that a most ef­fec­tive way of elim­i­nat­ing racism from cricket is to en­sure more black peo­ple play the game at every level. Clare Con­nor, the for­mer England women’s cap­tain, who as well as be­ing a se­nior ECB of­fi­cial will, in 2021, be­come the first fe­male pres­i­dent of MCC, has al­ready promised greater di­ver­sity.

So, as Nick Hoult re­ported in these pages last week, has the ECB it­self. He quoted Lons­dale Skin­ner, chair­man of the African Caribbean Cricket As­so­ci­a­tion, as say­ing black peo­ple had been “de­lib­er­ately ex­cluded” from the game since the 1990s: whereas in 1995 there were 33 black Bri­tish first-class crick­eters, now there are only 13. Skin­ner makes a good point, too, when he says the county acad­emy sys­tem ex­cludes play­ers from “poor black com­mu­ni­ties”. It

is, how­ever, a point that ap­plies to poor peo­ple from all com­mu­ni­ties, not just black ones.

Cricket can­not pre­tend that it is en­tirely colour blind. But the dearth of black crick­eters is also partly caused by fac­tors that ac­count for the grow­ing dearth of white work­ing-class crick­eters, and these must be ad­dressed by the ECB and clubs in or­der to en­cour­age la­tent tal­ent wher­ever it is to be found, and ir­re­spec­tive of eth­nic­ity. In some ar­eas, by con­trast, Asian-dom­i­nated clubs thrive: this is not least be­cause there is a larger Asian mid­dle class, and it has all the ad­van­tages mid­dle-class peo­ple do – no­tably more op­por­tu­ni­ties to play and watch cricket, and to par­tic­i­pate in the game in all ways.

Less af­flu­ent peo­ple, whether black, white or of any other race, usu­ally at­tend schools with­out play­ing fields and where cricket is not played; they could never af­ford (as count­less Bri­tish West In­di­ans did in the 1970s) to buy tick­ets to watch in­spi­ra­tional black and white crick­eters play­ing Tests.

Of course, there is a mass of un­tapped black crick­et­ing abil­ity that should be har­nessed to the game at all lev­els, and thou­sands of po­ten­tial black spec­ta­tors, too; but the same ap­plies to poor whites.

Those charged with main­tain­ing the com­mer­cial and moral health of cricket must en­able the game once more to be open to peo­ple of every class and race.

One su­perb ini­tia­tive, which greatly ben­e­fited black young­sters, was the Haringey Cricket Col­lege, founded in the 1980s. It bred a num­ber of first-class crick­eters from poor back­grounds.

The ECB must as­sist poorer com­mu­ni­ties to build a na­tional ver­sion of this. It re­quires the en­list­ment of vol­un­teer coaches; fundrais­ers who can pro­vide means to buy kit; links be­tween ex­ist­ing clubs and schools; but, above all, places to prac­tise and play.

Black and dis­ad­van­taged white peo­ple them­selves should be en­abled and en­cour­aged to own these schemes, and not pa­tro­n­is­ingly or­gan­ised by well-mean­ing mid­dle-class peo­ple more than is ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary.

Such a pro­gramme would be in every­one’s in­ter­ests. It would break down racial and class bar­ri­ers. It would give a new sense of mission to county, town and vil­lage clubs. It would im­prove the na­tion’s phys­i­cal and moral health. It would em­power peo­ple who feel they lack any power at all.

Cricket has be­come a closed shop in too many ways: it is time to open it up again. And virtues­ig­nalling is not enough.

Mak­ing a stand: Jos But­tler sports a BLM badge

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